Reading 2-5 Arsenal: A Badly Needed Knees-Up

Those of you who read the NYC Arsenal Supporters Facebook page know why there hasn't been anything from me over the last few games. The Cliff Notes version: I forgot to DVR the Olympiacos dead rubber, was out of state for West Brom and the Bradford game wasn't on the teevee. At some point, I had intended to write a "What it All Means" piece about the latter, but you know what? It's been done to death. You know what I was going to write - my feelings on the manager are well-known and haven't changed.

With that in mind, suffice to say that the result against the Bantams is easily the most humiliating I've had to endure in my tenure as an Arsenal fan (I just missed Wrexham) - ten times as bad as the Massacre of Old Trafford from last season or the League Cup final from two seasons ago.

Clearly, a fillip was badly needed for the men in red today. Thankfully, the brilliance of a little Spaniard ensured that we got it.

The big news heading in was that Theo Walcott finally got his wish, Arsene deploying him as the central striker. Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey were thankfully banished to the bench. Across the way, Reading bizarrely threw the returning Pavel Pogrebnyak right back into the fray, and benched the in-form Adam Le Fondre to do it.

Arsenal's problem during this barren run of results has been a lack of energy and attacking purpose. That was emphatically not the problem today, as the visitors took out their frustrations on an oddly-sedate Reading side early and often. Within the first five minutes, neat interplay between Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain resulted in the latter stinging Adam Federici's palms from distance, while Theo Walcott flashed a free kick just wide.

Naturally though, there were frailties at the other end. Pogrebnyak slalomed through the Arsenal defense with Kieran Gibbs nowhere. His cutback could have been touched on by any of three Reading players, all of whom contrived to miss.

How different could this game have been if that had gone in, huh?

Instead, six minutes later Arsenal were in front. Gibbs took the ball down the left and abused the horrendous Jimmy Kebe with a simple feint. The ensuing cross found Lukas Podolski inside the area, the statues in blue and white failing to bother trying to cut it out. The Medium-Sized German had time to take a touch and drill a shot past the stranded Federici.

Reading were all at sea, and Arsenal were not in the mood to let them get their bearings. I honestly have no idea what the home side were playing at - they did not play a pressing game nor did they pack the middle and try and deny their opponents space. If anything, the Arsenal attackers had all the time and space they could possibly want, and they duly used it to keep shots coming at Federici's net. Walcott had the best chance during this spell, a simple long ball from the Ox leaving their suicidally-high line for dead. He was in completely alone on the Aussie stopper, but could only shovel a weak shot into his legs. Highly frustrating at the time, but better things were to come.

Federici made another decent save to keep out a Podolski drive, but he couldn't prevent Arsenal from doubling their lead at the half-hour mark. Podolski was in the thick of it again, with the run of the left wing. He sent in a gorgeous cross into the area, where Cazorla was allowed to run in unopposed to nod it into the corner. That was shocking defending from the Royals, but you won't see me complaining.

Speaking of shocking defending, Arsenal bagged another one just 120 seconds later. This time, Walcott was allowed to cross in under no pressure whatsoever. Cazorla controlled brilliantly, and guided a low shot past Federici. Even worse for Reading, it could have been 4-0 had Federici not come to their rescue again when Walcott was the latest tiny person to get a free header in the area.

Honestly, it was like playing the computer on Easy in FIFA.

The second half began much as the first ended, Cazorla slightly unlucky to miss out on his hat trick with Federici on point again. Reading couldn't hold out forever though, and a goal of exquisite quality got Santi the third goal his brilliance deserved. The Ox, Jack Wilshere and Podolski were all involved, a dizzying array of passing and movement shredding the home defense. The coup de grace was a low cross from Podolski to the unmarked Cazorla (the two-goal man unmarked on the back post - can there be a more damning indictment of the muppets in blue and white?) for the easy tap-in.

It even could have been 5-0 a minute later, Theo once again frustrated by Federici. But, Brian McDermott then made the changes that he arguably should have at halftime. Noel Hunt and Pogrebnyak weren't helped much by the midfield, but they also failed to drop back and fight for the ball themselves (despite their manager yelling at them to do exactly that). Le Fondre and Hal Robson-Kanu came on, and immediately the home side hauled themselves back into the match.

However, that doesn't excuse the fact that Arsenal shut off a bit once it got to 4-0. Sure, it's a comfortable lead. But, having come back from that very deficit themselves on this ground a few months ago, they should have kept their boots on Reading's throat for all 90 minutes. It didn't end up hurting anything on this occasion, but it was an annoyance that didn't need to be.

As it stands, Le Fondre was the beneficiary when Gibbs played a spectacularly brain-dead pass to no one in particular. Jay Tabb found the former lower-league man, who simply rounded poor Wojceich Szczesny and tapped it in. That was a galling one to give up, as a clean sheet would have gone even further to salve recent wounds.

Instead, Reading got back to within two with 20 minutes to play. An innocuous Reading attack saw Robson-Kanu beat several defenders before hitting the overlapping Kebe. Podolski lazily played him onside, and the otherwise useless Malian stroked a shot past the helpless Szczesny, and now the match was much closer than it had a right to be.

So frustrating. So unnecessary.

That said, Arsenal kept their composure and decided to do that "playing football" thing again. Cazorla's effort for a fourth was clawed out by Federici (albeit at a comfortable height - the Aussie was excellent but not world-beating...a lot of those saves, you'd expect your keeper to make. As I keep saying, the next English pundit that knows anything about goalkeeping will be the first).

He had already gotten his fill of goals on the day though, but had just enough time to play provider before coming off to a well-deserved ovation from the traveling support. He found Walcott on the edge of the area, Reading once again completely all over the shop. The England man bamboozled the hapless Kaspars Gorkss and slid a low daisy-cutter into the far corner.

That ended whatever resistance the home side had left, leaving Arsenal with three precious points. It was a good performance against a horrendous opponent, but there were still some worrying lapses that could punish us against better opposition. Luckily, our next opponent is a Wigan Athletic side short of form and confidence themselves. More of the same on Saturday would be lovely.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Vermaelen 7, Mertesacker 7, Sagna 8, Arteta 8, Wilshere 7, Podolski 7, Cazorla 10 (Coquelin N/A), Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Ramsey 7), Walcott 8 (Giroud N/A)

Man of the Match: Tiny. Spanish. Brilliant.  Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, Santi Cazorla!